When it comes to providing a high-quality service, the healthcare sector is under increasing pressure to do more with less.
Faced with the challenges of an ageing population, a rise in chronic health conditions, and increasing financial pressures, the industry is increasingly turning to technology to improve efficiency,
effectiveness and, ultimately, patient outcomes.
Building better health
Can technology make a difference before ground’s even broken? Already, we’re seeing Virtual Reality being incorporated into the hospital planning process for staff and contractors to visualise and assess new facilities and minimise the chances of costly errors cropping up during construction.
In Denmark, the team behind the construction of the New North Zealand Hospital invested in a VR studio — essentially a 3D cinema — delivered by Danish company BIM Equity, so users can test
aspects like wayfinding and work procedures.
Project engineering services consultancy, Ramboll, says the hospital will extend over 1.3m sq ft, serving more than 310,000 people and including more than 580 single-bed wards. The building is
expected to be handed over in 2022.
Jason Frantzen, partner at Herzog & de Meuron, one of the architecture firms involved, said: “Our ambition is to provide New North Zealand Hospital with a building that facilitates the
active exchange between the staff, patients and visitors of the future hospital.
“Virtual Reality allows this same spirit of communication to resolve the complex planning issues that are key to this project’s success.”
Construction, investment and facilities management firm GRAHAM has been using VR to help plan 2 new facilities in Aberdeen, Scotland – the Baird Family Hospital, which will replace the current maternity hospital, and the ANCHOR Centre, which will provide services for patients with cancer and those with blood and bone marrow disorders. Construction is expected to begin next year.
Here, GRAHAM created 20 VR versions of the most complex of the facility’s 1,300 rooms. Then doctors, nurses and other staff wearing HTC VIVE headsets “stepped” in.
Tom Forrest, digital construction technician at GRAHAM, said: “The staff were able to suggest minor adjustments that would make their working life easier. Changes like altering the position of a sink, or where an operating table should be place. Those small changes will make a massive impact and save vital seconds when it comes to saving someone’s life.”
Hospitals get smart
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says the average hospital could save 14% of its annual whole-building energy consumption by installing smart technologies.
ACEEE adds that smart technologies can help address costs associated with these facilities’ characteristically long operating hours and high equipment loads. For instance, smart lighting systems can reduce energy use and increase patient comfort by better matching light output to occupancy and user needs. Without wasting energy, smart sensors and ventilation controls can maintain the ventilation needed to prevent the spread of diseases.
Czech company Spaceti, in partnership with Vodafone, announced in June it had developed a ‘3-in-1’ solution — involving hardware sensors and mobile and online applications — which monitors, amongst other things, environmental and occupancy conditions. This approach, the company says, could help those running large facilities like hospitals save hundreds of thousands of euros a year.
The solution uses the ‘Smart Stone’ wireless devices connected through Vodafone’s narrowband Internet of Things, or NB-IoT. The devices communicate with each other and can run without
a battery change for up to 5 years. Spaceti’s technology can also provide digital navigation to help clients and patients get to where they need to be in the hospital complex.
Meanwhile, capturing and acting on predictive maintenance data could save millions of dollars, according to California-based machine data company Glassbeam. Its system collects data from equipment such as MRI machines and CT scanners, giving real time information on performance and applies machine learning to help predict and avoid unnecessary downtime.
Medical staff spend a considerable amount of time on documentation, administration and coordination tasks. A number of studies show nurses spend less than 40% of their time with patients.
The good news is that technology is already being introduced with the potential to reduce the administrative burden, giving staff more time to spend on direct patient care.
For example, NHS Highland’s Caithness General Hospital in Wick is trialling a system developed by Edinburgh-based IoT firm Beringar and CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems, to easily locate beds and quickly access maintenance records as they move around the facility.
The system uses bluetooth tagging to transfer real-time data via a low-power, wide area IoT network called LoRaWAN. The tags can be attached to hospital beds — and potentially other equipment in the future such as dialysis machines — allowing them to share location and maintenance information.
Eric Green, head of estates at NHS Highland, said: “It’s now more important than ever for the NHS to increase productivity and identify where it can make changes to enhance efficiency…The bluetooth tags and dashboard make it easy to find the bed we’re looking for and access up-to-date maintenance records, enabling us to make smarter, more informed decisions.”
And in September, Texas-headquartered Diligent Robotics introduced Moxi, a “friendly Artificial Intelligence healthcare robot.” Moxi is being piloted at 3 hospitals in the Lone Star State, taking
on non-patient-facing logistical tasks such as picking up and delivering medical supplies – reducing trips for staff supply rooms and freeing them up for other duties.
Will the increasing capacity and capability of technologies ultimately herald a different model of global healthcare? These technologies are just the tip of the iceberg.
This article originally featured in the PlaceTech TRENDS Q3 report – download in full here